They say that hate is a virus. It can be indolent and go unnoticed for years, while causing irreparable damage on the inside. It can be aggressive and symptomatic and can spread rapidly from person to person, forcing us to isolate and fear one another. It can flare and mutate, and much like with the COVID-19 virus, we find ourselves asking whether it can truly be erradicated or whether it will be with us forever. For Asian Americans, this question has become ever-present. With an alarming rise in the rate of Asian men and women being harassed in public, assaulted on the street and even mass-murdered at work, there is little doubt that what we are seeing are the damaging consequences of this disease, the sequelae of hate.
If you turn on any television or open any news app on your phone, you cannot avoid drowning in images of hate crimes against Asians. We can silence our phones and change the channel, but little can erase the mental pictures of people who look like us being persecuted by our fellow citizens. It is a stark reminder that, no matter how assimilated we think we are, there are those who still consider us as outsiders. We find ourselves trapped in an America that embraces and capitalizes on aspects of our culture (sushi and dim sum, “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “Indian Match Maker”) but simultaneously promotes people who use a rhetoric of hate and blame into positions of leadership and power. This dichotomy leaves us wholly torn because, in our minds, we are as American as apple pie, and so what do we say to others when they yell at us to go back home?
Asian Americans are certainly not the first or only people to feel this kind of pain. As we cross the one-year anniversary of the public murder of George Floyd, the Black community continues to grieve and suffer, for even the most basic, bare-minimum belief that “Black Lives Matter” has become a contentious issue. Although George Floyd has now received some modicum of justice with the results of the Derek Chauvin trial, Black people continue to live in a reality in which their discrimination and abuse must be recorded on video before they are believed or supported. While the “otherness” of being Asian in this country is currently on display, we must recognize that Black Americans are also hurting, and they have not reaped the privileges of the “model minority” myth. This stereotype that Asians are all the same – reserved, smart, only focused on science and math – is a gross generalization of the diversity that we bring to this country and undermines the struggle that both Asians and other minorities face. There is no such thing as an ideal immigrant, and the Asian community must reject this belief and strive to become better allies to the Black community.
If we have learned anything from recent events, it is that there is power in being seen. While it is difficult and uncomfortable to watch what is happening to minorities in America, we cannot turn a blind eye to these moments. We need to take a hard look at ourselves, our values and the state of our country to recognize that we are standing on the precipice of change. We are living in a world where a video can spark a civil rights revolution and where the image of a Black and Asian woman being sworn in as vice president can inspire a generation of children. People are paying attention, and as Asian surgeons, we have the opportunity and platform to change the visual landscape of this country. The mission of organizations like SAAS to promote the professional development of Asian surgeons is now more important than ever. Despite the claim that Asians are overrepresented in medicine, we remain poorly represented in positions of leadership. By encouraging more young Asian doctors to pursue academic surgery, we can address this dearth of diversity and help to address the conscious and unconscious biases that still exist against us.
Hate may be a virus, but it is an illness that we can fight. We can believe in a world where we are seen for the quality of our character and not for the color of our skin or the shape of our eyes, but to get to this future, we must continue to vie for equal representation, not only for Asians, but also for all people of color. Only then can we hope to heal the scars of bigotry and create an America where no one is told to go back to their own country – an America that everyone can call home.
Lindsey Zhang MD
General Surgery Resident Physician
University of Chicago Medical Center